BWW Reviews: DONNA MCKECHNIE at Olney Theatre Center
I bet history was made at the Olney Theatre Center recently when while a performance of the hit musical A CHORUS LINE was being performed on the Main Stage, a few steps away in the Historic Stage, the original "Cassie" in the Broadway production of the same name, Donna McKechnie was performing her act SAME PLACE, ANOTHER TIME.
It was back in 1975 that McKechnie received the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in large part for her incredible solo/dance "The Music and the Mirror". I had the pleasure of seeing McKenchnie on Broadway in A A CHORUS LINE and in her performance in the Tony-winning musical HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (which by coincidence will be playing the Olney January 29 to February 23, 2014).
When I read that she would be coming to Olney, I leaped at the opportunity to see her again. Well, she's now 72 years old but looks absolutely terrific. The intimate crowd of about 200 certainly appreciated her songs by giving her a standing ovation.
Accompanying McKecnhnie on the piano was the wonderful Ian Herman who has worked with such Broadway stars as Judy Kaye and Karen Mason (both who appeared in MAMMA MIA!), and Anita Morris (NINE). The interesting and sometimes complex arrangements were by John McDaniel.
The evening began surprisingly with "The Hustle" which was a huge dance hit in 1975 when Studio 54 was at its height. McKechnie teased the audience with a little dance. She premiered SAME PLACE, ANOTHER TIME in January, 2013 at 54 Below, a small theater underneath the former Studio 54. She then went into "Where or When" from the musical BABES IN ARMS by Rodgers and Hart.
Her repertoire was an interesting mix of show tunes and pop songs which had sort of a melancholy theme dealing with relationships that didn't last. She mentioned her own separation but did not mention she was divoreced from Director Michael Bennett.
There were the requisite Sondheim songs but both were not very well known. There was "Uptown Downtown" cut from FOLLIES, and "What More Do I Need" from his first musical "Saturday Night".
Irving Berlin was represented with "I Got Lost in his Arms" from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and "Better Luck Next Time" from his EASTER PARADE.
McKechnie mentioned her being so excited meeting the great Fred Astaire in her dressing room after a show. He invited her to his apartment in Hollywood where they dined and danced together. She then sang a song called "Astair" by Matt Costa.
There was the hysterical number by famed composer Portia Nelson called "Confessions of a New Yorker" (known as "Hate-Love").
She finished with Jim Croce's lovely "Time in a Bottle".
But the highlight of the evening was her reminiscing about how A CHORUS LINE came into being with stories of young actors and actresses. She mentioned that the song "At the Ballet" was based on her young life. She added that the role of "Maggie" was based on her story. She then began to sing Maggie's part of the trio who sang the song in the show. The lyrics include "I used to dance around the living room...and Daddy said Maggie do want to dance? And I said Daddy I would love to..." Well, see my review of Olney's A CHORUS LINE elsewhere on this site to see why tears began flowing from my eyes. People expecting her to perform "The Music and the Mirror" I'm sure were a little disappointed.
It was an exceptionally entertaining evening which could have been more enjoyable if McKechnie spoke about the songs she sang and the somposers who wrote them. I'm not sure why cabaret singers hesitate to do this.